Rohan Kimber outlines developments in new spore-trapping technologies at the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre Science Exchange.
PHOTO: Catherine Norwood
School buses or rural couriers could potentially become part of a surveillance network designed to help protect Australia’s grain-growing regions from the spread of fungal diseases such as exotic and endemic cereal rusts.
A mobile version of the ‘smart’ jet spore trap, to be mounted on the roof of a vehicle, is capable of high volume air sampling while travelling at speeds of up to 100 kilometres an hour.
Dr Rohan Kimber, from the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), outlined the development of the new jet spore trap at the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (PBCRC) Science Exchange in October.
He said field testing had been conducted and final modifications were being made with the design team, which included engineering specialists at the University of Southern Queensland, and UK-based partners Rothamsted Research and Burkard Manufacturing Co.
The PBCRC project has been underwritten by the GRDC to take advantage of new technology to improve the detection and identification of airborne fungal pathogens.
Dr Kimber said this kind of technology offered the potential for broad-scale monitoring at a local, regional and national level.
The new jet spore trap can be easily fixed to the top of a vehicle to provide mobile surveillance for fungal pathogens in grain-growing areas.
The new trap’s sampling rate was “orders of magnitude” greater than standard trap technology, he said – 450 litres per minute, compared with 10L/minute. This was important, particularly for detecting exotic pathogens that might first occur in Australia at very low levels.
‘Smart’ electronics incorporated into the trap design include the ability to record GPS and time data, temperature and humidity. It is powered by the vehicle’s 12-volt supply and rather than capturing samples on adhesive tape, the jet spore trap captures particles either dry or in liquid, in DNA tubes. These are fitted into a carousel that can be automated to change tubes, for example, when new GPS coordinates are reached.
Dr Kimber said this and other new trapping technologies were designed to be more compatible with rapid diagnostic capabilities also being developed in parallel research, allowing for highly species-specific detection. The use of wireless networks and imaging technology in some traps, particularly insect traps, was also bringing real-time detection in the field as close to reality as possible.
The mobile trap is expected to operate in conjunction with fixed surveillance systems, which could be automated to operate according to triggers such as climatic conditions or time of day – conditions when target species are most likely to be airborne.
Coordinated with effective data management and diagnostics and new trapping technologies, Dr Kimber said outputs for the mobile jet spore trap could include an alert system for new pathogens, spatial maps of prevalent pathogens across a region, and improved resolution for the distribution of pathogens throughout the growing season.
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